William Wilberforce was born in Hull on 24 August 1759, the only son of Robert Wilberforce (1728–68), a wealthy merchant and his wife Elizabeth.
In October 1784 Wilberforce embarked upon a tour of Europe which would change his life and, ultimately, his whole future career. This is thought to have been the beginning of Wilberforce’s spiritual journey, and he began to rise early to read the Bible and pray, as well as to keep a personal private journal. He experienced an evangelical conversion experience, regretting his past life and resolving to commit his future life and work to the service of God.
William Wilberforce led the twenty-year fight to end the British slave trade. He finally succeeded in March 1807 and continued to fight for abolition until, days before his death in 1833, he saw the institution of slavery abolished throughout the British colonies. On May 12, 1787, under an English oak on his Holwood Estate, Prime Minister William Pitt pressed Wilberforce to introduce a bill for the abolition of the slave trade. Wilberforce's research found that the holds of slave ships were, according to one witness, "so covered in blood and mucus which had proceeded from them in consequence of the (dysentery) that it resembled a slaughterhouse." Enslaved Africans on the ships attempted to starve themselves to death or to jump into the ocean. Wilberforce thought this suffering a good reason for reform.
Not limiting himself to just abolitionist work, he dedicated his life to what he called his "two great objects:" abolishing slavery in the British Empire and what he called "the reformation of manners (society)." To this end, he advocated for child labor laws, campaigned for education of the blind and deaf, and founded organizations as diverse as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the National Gallery (of Art). "Good causes," it has been said, "stuck to him like pins to a magnet."
His life story is told in the movie "Amazing Grace" starring Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, and Youssou N'Dour. A powerful movie - almost moved me to tears -I recommend it to everyone.